Courtesy National Latino Children’s Institute

Summit tries to combat hunger among U.S. Latino children

Hunger is something we think doesn’t happen here. But according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 16.7 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. The rate of food insecurity for Hispanics is 26.9 percent while the national average rate is 14.7 percent.

On December 7, approximately 250 community leaders, anti-hunger advocates, government officials and corporate executives will gather at Capitol Hill to discuss this national problem at the 2nd Annual NO MAS HAMBRE Summit. Among the organizations that will be present are the Alliance to End Hunger, Latino Magazine and First Focus Campaign for Children.

Rita Jaramillo, of the National Education Association and the National Latino Children’s Institute (NLCI), will be on the panel focusing on childhood nutrition and food insecurity.

“There is a whole connection between poverty and obesity,” says Jaramillo. “When there’s poverty, people eat what’s cheap — fast food, cheap drinks, poor quality bread…In many cases, sometimes the only meal [children] can count on is the one at the school. A lot of these families are increasingly getting their food from food banks.”

NLCI is a 15-year-old non-profit organization that brings attention to the issues and concerns of Latino children ages 0 to 18.

“We work with La Promesa Network — individual non-profits throughout the country that believe there are certain things that must be in place to help Latino children thrive,” says Jaramillo. “We believe a child needs a healthy start, they need access to good health care, they need a caring adult, they need a quality education in order to thrive.”

She says Latino children however, need a little extra care.

“We believe a lot of our kids have language barriers that make their life challenging,” says Jaramillo. “The poverty is challenging, and many are growing up in a society where their culture and language are not respected, and they end up feeling ‘less than.’ We focus on those issues.”

After doing focus groups in the Latino community, both immigrant and native-born, Jaramillo says NLCI developed a program called Salsa, Sabor y Salud — a healthy family-centered curriculum for the community. She says it’s designed not only for  mothers, but fathers, and children, too,  so that everybody is properly educated about nutrition and exercise.

“It uses food groups they are accustomed to — keeping the flavor and taking out all the bad stuff,” says Jaramillo who understands the importance of traditional food in Latino families. “The results are really great.”

What has made an even bigger mark, Jaramillo says, is partnering with other national organizations to take the curriculum to 1,300 YMCAs around the country in an effort to attract more Latinos.

“The program is both a nutritional program and physical activity — it’s a perfect partnership,” says Jaramillo who also mentions Walmart has provided grants to disseminate training to several regions of the country.

Jaramillo also says NLCI teaches Latino communities important nutritional tips, such as substituting more water instead of fruit drinks, which have a high amount of sugar.  The program also teaches ways to combat obesity on a low budget.

“If you’re ever in a mercado — one thing that goes like crazy is the ramen noodles,” says Jaramillo, explaining that the flavor packets are extremely high in sodium. “We teach them how they can season the ramen noodles by making your own broth — like a vegetable broth. You’re not going to change their habits, you just teach them how to continue their cultural traditions, but how to make them a little healthier.”

Jaramillo says she is eager to inform as many leaders as possible at the summit about the complexities of hunger, and ultimately to engage them in a possible agenda to end hunger.

“I’m talking about Salsa and its uniqueness — it’s bilingual, it’s been tested by the community and strategies come from the community — not changing tradition of the food,” she says. “We can do this.”

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